Inevitably, the law of averages caught up with me today. As I waited in the Transportation Security Administration line at National Airport, I had a sneaking suspicion they were pushing everyone through the millimeter wave scanners. Sure enough, after I had stripped down to be sure I wouldn’t trip the mag, I was directed (as it seems, were the majority of passengers) to the wave machine.
Faced with the choice of the pat down or the scan, I took the option to “Opt Out” and have the pat down instead. I stated my intention in a friendly manner as the TSA agent directed me to enter the wave machine; he asked me to stand to the side and called out for a male screening. Am important note is that you have to state explicitly “I opt out,” else, as a Red Cross colleague found out, you will be made to go through the scanners even if you state you do not wish to go through
you, the trigger phrase is clearly mandated to encourage travellers to use the “pron” machines.
I was ushered through the mags (no beeps) to meet my TSA detail who picked up my bag and trays and took me to the public pat down area. There was no second guessing, questioning or other punitive looks or actions from any of the agents, it all occurred as routine – just like for travelling with a baby or with any other special case. After asking me if I was familiar with the pat down process (I was from other reports and Pistole’s testimony on the Hill) the agent started on the enhanced screening. He clearly stated the outline of the screening – running hands around shirt collar, band of trousers and all over – including between the legs, from both the back, and the front.
The agent stood behind me with my arms spread out, ran hands around shirt collar, passed over my back, bum and legs with the back of his hands, ran hands around trousers and repeated from the front.
I did get surprisingly nervous once I had assumed the position, but the entire process was relatively quick, and efficient. I would say a couple of minutes in total, in fact, it probably only was enough time that a few people from behind me had passed me. This was in the morning rush, so I was quite surprised how well it went.
Do I like the idea of being quite intimately patted down? No, not so much. But it was professional and a momentary period of being uncomfortable. It still doesn’t get to the crux of the issue that this is security theatre and were I hiding anything internally, it would not have been found. There’s not really a foolproof technique without employing behavioral profiling and putting each person through an x-ray machine (though with the IG recently highlighting security lapses by passing a gun through the x-ray multiple times during a recent test – and it not being caught, put a bit of a damper on that one too).
Admittedly, I don’t know how much of this has to do with the airport being DCA, and all the recent attention on the issue, I can imagine if I opted out in say, Odessa, Texas, the agents might have a different take on the situation and either delay, drag out or otherwise be taken aback and/or punitive as a result of opting out.
I would absolutely opt out again, and encourage others too. This was a pretty good test, I didn’t have a “don’t touch my junk” attitude, and wasn’t given a hard time about opting out. Until the long term ramifications and health/security value of the scans have been peer reviewed, and until security theatre is phased out in favour of something more effective, or until using the wave machines is mandated, I will continue this.